Washington's Defense Preserves Game 1 Win
SEATTLE - For her first two years at Washington, Kaija Gibson was a speedy fourth outfielder used primarily as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement.
Now batting cleanup and playing an entirely new position, Gibson made the big defensive play when it mattered to help seal No. 3 Washington’s 3-0 shutout of No. 14 Kentucky.
With two on and two out in the fifth, SEC Player of the Year Abbey Cheek hit a sharp grounder up the first base line. Gibson made a quick reaction, reaching up and to her left to snag the high hop, preserving the 2-0 lead and getting the Huskies out of trouble.
“(Gibson is) somebody that is here for the program and for the team,” Head Coach Heather Tarr said. “As soon as we asked her ‘Hey, this is an opportunity for you,’ she was on it, coming in for extra work. She’s definitely earned the right to have her teammates trust her and us trust her.”
Washington committed a pair of uncharacteristic errors to extend innings, but made big defensive plays in the clutch to end threats and keep the Wildcats off the scoreboard, highlighted by Gibson’s great stab in the fifth. Left fielder Sami Reynolds took away an RBI double from Alex Martens with a long running catch in deep left-center in the first.
The Huskies have allowed just one run over their past six games, spanning 40 innings. Taran Alvelo and Gabbie Plain each allowed two hits, with Plain (22-2) coming in for Alvelo and striking out Mallory Peyton with runners at first and third to end the fourth.
“We definitely had our opportunities to score,” Kentucky Head Coach Rachel Lawson said. “We put people on base, but (UW’s pitchers) did a great job coming up with key pitches when they needed to.”
The biggest threat for Kentucky to at least break the shutout came in the sixth, as Martens led off with a single and moved to second when Kayla Kowalik reached on an error. Lauren Johnson put down a textbook sacrifice bunt, but Plain and the Husky defense came up big again. Peyton hit a hard grounder to SilentRain Espinoza at third, who looked Martens back to the bag before making a strong throw to first. Taryn Atlee then fielded a slow roller to second by Kelsee Henson to end the inning.
“We need to do a better job with runners in scoring position and runners on base,” Lawson said. “I felt like we were just going up there trying to hit the ball, as opposed to trying to score runs and do the things that we typically do.”
Trying to pitch around Morganne Flores was clearly a major focus in the UK pitching game plan. Eleven of the first 13 pitches she saw were balls, some of them not particularly close. But Grace Baalman (10-10) left a 3-1 pitch middle-in and Flores took advantage with her fourth home run in the past three games, pushing her season total to 22 with a moonshot that tucked just inside the left field foul pole to push the lead to 3-0.